Interview: The Download Tapes – Avatar

Avatar brought back their travelling ‘circus’ show to Donnington Park, delivering an unforgettable performance. After releasing their latest album ‘Dance Devil Dance’ earlier this year they promised to save heavy metal and to get the crowd moving. Old school rock values are important to these guys, every conscious decision they make as a band reflects that. Aggy sat down to talk to singer Johannes about the typical life cycle of the band and how each part is just as important and special as the next. Johannes shares what it means to him to have this ‘circus’ life with such impactful and memorable experiences along the way. 

Are you guys excited to be playing Download Festival today?

“I am actually. To be perfectly honest Download sets are too short but then the way we are going to deal with it we will make it feel like we are The Ramones. So it’s going to be very cool nonetheless.”

Have you done many Downloads before?

“Yeah. I want to say two or three. I don’t know if that’s a lot.”

Yeah that’s a fair amount!

“Enough to say, holy shit they changed catering *laughs*” 

How does it feel to be involved in the 20th anniversary

“I had forgotten it was the anniversary. It’s cool! These grounds, from before it was called Download. We were just talking about Monsters Of Rock the other day. I was introducing our American stage manager to…that he has to watch ‘More Bad News’. Have you seen that one?”

No, I don’t think I have!

“Have you seen Spinal Tap?”

Oh yeah of course

“This is like that but dumber *laughs*. It’s really great. To remind him and put him in that mindset that where we are is like hallowed grounds for british metal history.” 

How does it compare for you being here and other festivals you have played?

“We have some very good memories of, especially one show. We got to play so early on the main stage one year . We were worried whether anyone would even be there. It ended up being a proper turning point for this whole Island for us. We were then able to do more legit stuff in terms of our own tours. That sticks with us. I have some great memories of just as a fan boy bumping into bands and getting to know people here and all of that. I got to see Jake E. Lee take a nap in the catering area. Those things make it near and dear.” 

Avatar released an album this year titled ‘Dance Devil Dance’. Can you tell me about that?

“We boldly stated that we were going to save heavy metal. There’s a lot about the album that makes me believe in that beyond wanting to be a bit provocative and to have fun in press releases. I feel there is a huge issue in modern metal where a lot of it seems to be best enjoyed if you sit down and shut up. I don’t think that was ever the purpose of this kind of music. A lot of modern metal disappears up its own ass and loses touch with its roots. Heavy metal sub genres, it is rock and roll. Rock and roll is dance music. We dance too, just we dance a bit differently and it hurts. It’s still movement to music and we priorities that and we’re very much built on old school ideals in terms of how to record and what makes a good song. Instead of making one song that is sad, angry and horny you make three songs. One is sad, one is angry and one is horny. That sense of focus was important in this album. I feel that it’s old school ideals but then at the same time writing these songs that hopefully you haven’t heard until we put it out.”

I read you are quite influenced by old school wrestling like Hulk Hogan, Kiss and all that kind of stuff. Does that influence a lot of the theatrics you guys have on stage and in your videos?

“Yeah! It most certainly does. The whole art form of being on stage. Besides being a fan of rock and metal bands and so on, I’m fascinated by any kind of performing arts that depends on interacting with your audience. I have been to ballet as well and I love it. I’ve been to the opera and enjoy it very much. That is a bit more static in terms of the relationship between the audience and who is on stage. What we do as a band I think relates more to stand up comedians, magic shows, when you bring someone up on stage or whatever. And more than anything professional wrestling. How they have ring psychology we have stage psychology. You have ideas of how a joke is going to work but it changes ever so slightly from night to night. We want to take you over there emotionally whatever that might be, on this emotional trip. But to reach that I have to understand where you are at, at the beginning. It changes at a festival or on a headline show, being the opening band, geography, the local culture influences, how late you play and what day of the week you play. I think about how I do help people let loose. That combined with how all the great names in professional wrestling became huge stars when they were able to tap into who they are as people, elevate, magnify and exaggerate that. As theatrical as we are, we are not characters. We are ourselves but we just dial it up to eleven and do our Spinal Tap thing.” 


I was going to ask if you prefer to play concerts or festivals. I read you prefer doing big shows so you can put on more of a show, Is that right?

“I like it all. I like with our job we get to do things for a while until we get bored with it. The studio, producing and making something come to life in there is great. We mix it, we master it, we put it out. Then when we are done we get to go on tour. We have done so much headlining this year already which is amazing and now we have hit the festival season. It’s a great change of pace, change of vibe and change of scenery. Then at some point you will be fed up with that because travelling is way crazier than when you are out doing your own thing. We will get to get back and do that in the fall. I like the mix. Then you get to disappear up your own little tower and do the alchemy of writing new music again. The life cycle of a band. I like it all so I wouldn’t pick one thing over the other.”

I liked how you describe you like the whole pirate/circus life with the travelling and the shows I thought it was cool how you described it like that

“Absolutely. I think we have one of the best jobs a person can have. In terms of self indulgence at least. There are way more important jobs to do in this world. I don’t drive an ambulance, I’m not a teacher etc. In terms of having the privilege of being able to think about yourself a lot we are having the time of our lives. It’s clear when you are out on the road that it isn’t for everyone. You have to have a certain mindset, you have to love the circus life. That is what makes it work.”

Of course, you guys look amazing on stage with your outfits and make up and stuff. Do you guys come up with all of that yourselves? Do you do your own makeup also?

“Yeah I do my own makeup. I didn’t come up with it. Her name is Johanna. Her last name escapes. She may or may not be married since we last worked together so I think she may have a different last name. The makeup girl at the time for the ‘Black Waltz’ music video that we did. I was like turn me into a scary clown! Then bish bash bosh and then that’s all her. Since then it’s been me doing it except for proper photo sessions or music videos. When it looks really good Emma has done it. Then on tour I have done it *laughs*”

Is this the last UK date for you this year?

“For this festival run, yes. We were here for a couple of weeks earlier this year. It was an amazing time beating our own attendance records for what we have done on this Island before. It does pave the way for this fall which will be a lot of North America. That also means that next year there will be a lot of Europe. I still do include Great Britain in Europe. It can’t be helped. It is our ambition to do more.”

Have you got a moment in your career that stands out to you, a fond or favourite memory? It can be anything

“There are tons! One that pops into my mind right now was when we went to Brazil for the first time last year. We did that with Iron Maiden which is a great start. The first show was so special because of what they have meant to us growing up. It was the first time that we were properly nervous since the band was founded. We were treated very well. We still had that nervousness. I don’t care anymore in the sense that we do what means something to us. Those who get it get it, those who don’t, they don’t and it’s fine. That being said, Iron Maiden symbolises that sense of tribalism, in a good way, and for once I had hoped to be accepted into the tribe of Brazilian Iron Maiden fans. The first show went really well. I became very emotional. Then we got to watch the Iron Maiden set from far above where we could see the whole audience and hear them. When they played ‘Blood Brothers’ that’s a very personally meaningful and important song for us as a band. It was tear jerking.”

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Interview by Aggy Gillon

Photos by Gary Trueman